December 2013 Posts

“The Scatter Here is Too Great” Bilal Tanweer

“The Scatter Here is Too Great” Bilal Tanweer

THe scatter here is too greatMy father was particularly fond of stories from the long epic fantasy, Tilism Hoshruba. In these stories about evil sorcerers and good tricksters, when a sorcerer was killed, his head would split open and a bird sprung out announcing the sorcerer’s name and the murderer’s name one by one. ‘In this city, a part of us dies each day, and a bird springs out of our open skulls each day announcing our death and the addresses of our murderers,’ he said to me once while were taking a walk on the beach, ‘but nobody listens. The air is thick with the chorus of these birds of death. Listen.’ 

My father imagined the world and each object as part of continuous stories. In his stories the universe answered his questions, the past was visible and the future illuminated. Things had reasons and they all connected. 

But unlike my father, when I looked back into the past, all I saw was pitch black darkness and heard unnamed voices trying to override each other in their attempts to reach me–and I felt indifferent to all of them. That’s when I concluded that my father’s way of imagining the universe was naive, simplistic, and wrong, just plain wrong. He was wrong about the world. The world and its stories did not continue or cohere. We were all just broken parts and so were our stories. True stories are fragments. Anything longer is a lie, a fabrication. 

Bilal TanweerBilal Tanweer’s debut novel, The Scatter Here is Too Great, is set in Karachi, Pakistan. It is a string of perspectives about a bomb blast at a station in the heart of the city. A situation not unfamiliar to this seaside town. It is the telling that is so special. The English used is so sophisticated and yet, remarkably, it seems to captures the cadences of Urdu, the language  that is spoken locally. While reading the novel you can hear it, without it disrupting or distracting the reader from the story. The details in the story, the gentle but powerful manner in which the characters are created, slowly and steadily, they leave a lasting impression. Notably the description of the breakdown nineteen-year-old Akbar is moving. He is the younger brother of the narrator, three days away from his wedding but was the ambulance driver at the scene of the bomb blast and was horrified by what he saw. The story comes together despite the chaos — in the city and in the lives that are turned topsy-turvy. It is as if the author is writing about the events in Karachi as an insider with an outsider’s perspective. He is an insider since he writes sensitively, with empathy, a bit of emotion and an understanding but has the detachment to write it as an outsider. No wonder it took him eight years to write this slim novel.

A novel worth reading.

Bilal Tanweer The Scatter Here is Too Great Random House India, Delhi, 2013. Hb. pp. 204 Rs. 350

 

The Essential Ved Mehta

The Essential Ved Mehta

The Essential Ved Mehta, 2013, Penguin IndiaThe Essential Ved Mehta is a collection of the author’s writings spanning 1957 to 2003. These are excerpts from his non-fiction writing, but each extract is prefaced by a new introduction he has written especially for this volume. So there is a filtering of the texts, his looking back and at the same time, guiding the reader on how to read the texts he has selected. This is curious and at the same time interesting. He writes, ” I have written an introduction for each selection and ordered them in such a way that each piece speaks to the next one. Read together, they will, I hope, give a sense of my writing life.” 

The last time Ved Mehta came to Delhi, it was in 2009. During  a literary halt at the CMYK store, Meharchand Market, Mayank Austen Soofi ( The Delhiwalla) was present with his camera. Here is a link to some photographs of that evening:  http://thedelhiwalla.blogspot.in/2009/11/city-sighting-ved-mehta-meharchand.html

Ved Mehta The Essential Ved Mehta Hamish Hamilton, an imprint of Penguin Books, New Delhi, 2013. Hb. pp. 390. Rs 599.

The Best of 2013, a list

The Best of 2013, a list

PubSpeak, Jaya

Update. 31 Dec 2013 

I had posted the “Best of 2013” on 22 Dec 2013. To which I have a few more links to add. Here they are. Of the Indian newspapers I have only been able to locate a couple of links online. If anyone can send me the missing urls, I would add them to the list.) 

 

Book Riot: The 10 Best Top 100 Books Lists
The 2013 PW Children’s Starred Reviews Annual, Available Now
Duckbill. Best Indian books of 2013

 

Stylist. CULT BOOKS OF 2013
Business Standard. A year when non-fiction made headlines (2013 in Retrospect)
USA Today: Close the chapter for 2013: Year in review in books
Guernica: Best of 2013, Editors’ Picks
The Guardian: Reader’s picks of 2013
The Mint: Pick of 2013
Daily Mail: Pick of 2013
The Economic Times ( I cannot find the link)
The Hindustan Times ( I cannot find the link)
The Indian Express
Asian Age: Best of 2013
Longform.org: Best of 2013
NewYorker: Best Business Journalism of 2013
The Independent
The Daily Beast
Kirkus Reviews: BOOKS TO GENUINELY INSPIRE YOUR NEW YEAR
Best books from Russia
BBC. Our pick of what’s to come in 2014
The Independent: Forthcoming in 2014
Salon’s What to Read Awards: Top critics choose the best books of 2013
The Express:  Hot 2014 books to tempt literary fans

 

(Early December is when the “best of” lists begin to make their presence. There are many to choose from. Mostly while reading them, I feel I have barely read anything at all! But here are a few of the lists that I found interesting to dip into and will bookmark for 2014.  It would be interesting to do a similar list for South Asia in English, the regional languages and in translation.) 

New Yorker, THE BEST BOOKS OF 2013, PART 1
New Yorker, THE BEST BOOKS OF 2013, PART 2

PW best of 2013

Boyd Tonkin’s list for Best of 2013, The Independent, 29 Nov 2013
http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/books-of-the-year-2013-fiction-8970307.html

NYT’s Best Illustrated Books for children
Writers and critics on the best books of 2013
Hilary Mantel, Jonathan Franzen, Mohsin Hamid, Ruth Rendell, Tom Stoppard, Malcolm Gladwell, Eleanor Catton and many more recommend the books that impressed them this year. The Guardian.
The Observer: The publishers’ year: hits and misses of 2013
Publishers choose their books of the year, and the ones that got away
The Observer’s books of the year
From new voices like NoViolet Bulawayo to rediscovered old voices like James Salter, from Dave Eggers’s satire to David Thomson’s history of film, writers, Observer critics and others pick their favourite reads of 2013. And they tell us what they hope to find under the tree … The Guardian
The Guardian, The Observer’s best fiction books of 2013
FT’s books of 2013 ( fiction, non-fiction, translation, poetry, business books, science fiction, young adult, picture books, children, gift books, crime, gardening, food, travel, style, film, pop, classical, architecture & design, art, sport, science, politics, history, and economics)
The Times Literary Supplement’s ( TLS) Books of the Year
The Times Higher Education’s Books of 2013
The Economist’s list of the Books of 2013
Kirkus’s Best Books of 2013  ( fiction, non-fiction, children’s, teen books, indie books and book apps!)
NYT’s Notable Children’s Books of 2013
NYPL’s children’s books of the year
Kirkus’s Best Children’s books of 2013
The Guardian, The best children’s literature of 2013: From picture books for toddlers to novels for teens, Julia Eccleshare and Michelle Pauli choose this year’s standout titles
Guardian’s the best crime and thrillers of 2013
The Globe Books 100: Best Canadian fiction
New Statesman Books of the year
Washington Post’s Best Books of 2013
Spectator writers’ Christmas book choices
Books of the year from Philip Hensher, Jane Ridley, Barry Humphries, Jane Ridley, Melanie McDonagh, Matthew Parris, Nicky Haslam and more
The best children’s books for Christmas
Melanie McDonagh picks The River Singers, The Demon Dentist, Rooftoppers, The Fault in Our Stars, Knight Crusader — and several beautiful Folio editions
Brain Pickings: Best of children’s and picture books for 2013
BBC, Best Books of 2013
NPR’s Book Concierge: Our Guide To 2013’s Great Reads
by Jeremy Bowers, Nicole Cohen, Danny DeBelius, Camila Domonoske, Rose Friedman, Christopher Groskopf, Petra Mayer, Beth Novey and Shelly Tan
Huffington Post 2013
Quill & Quire 2013
The Guardian: Independents’ view of 2013’s best books
Indie bookshops from all over the UK use their expertise and ‘handsellers” passion to choose their books of the year
The Guardian: The best poetry of 2013
From Fleur Adcock’s Glass Wings to Train Songs edited by Sean O’Brien and Don Paterson, Adam Newey rounds up the best poetry of the year
The Guardian: Best science fiction books of 2013
From Margaret Atwood’s MaddAddam to Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, Adam Roberts rounds up the best science fiction of the year
Cosmopolitan, The 22 Best Books of the YearFor Women, by Women
Stylist UK, Best of 2013
Amazon.com ( Best books of 2013)
Oprah Winfrey
Pinterest Best of 2013
 
Forbes What Is Your Book Of The Year, 2013?
Lynn Rosen, The Best of the Best
 
Miscellaneous 
Foreign Policy. Global Thinkers of 2013
Reuters photos of the year, 2013
22 Dec 2013
On translations in India, 2013. Published in DNA, 20 Dec 2013

On translations in India, 2013. Published in DNA, 20 Dec 2013

DNA, translations(My article on translations in 2013, trends and changes has been published this morning in DNA, 20 Dec 2013. I cannot find the link online but here is a clipping of it sent via email to me.  I am also c&p the text below. )

Cobalt Blue2013 was a positive year for publishing, certainly for translations that were visible. Translations were on the DSC Prize South Asian Literature 2014 shortlist that mainly focuses on general fiction in English, not in a separate category— Anand’s Book of Destruction (Translated from Malayalam by Chetana Sachidanandan) and Benyamin’s Goat Days (Translated from Malayalam by Joseph Koyippalli). Other translations that left an impression upon literary conversations of the year are — Shamsur Rahman’s The Mirror of Beauty ( translated from Urdu by the author); Habib Tanvir’s Memoir ( translated by Mahmood Farooqui); Sunanda Sankar’s A Life Long Ago ( translated from Bengali by Anchita Ghatak) and Sachin Kundalkar’s Cobalt Blue (translated from Marathi by Jerry Pinto); Ajay Navaria’s Unclaimed Terrain (Translated from Hindi by Laura Brueck); Uday Prakash’s The Walls of Delhi (translated from Hindi by Jason Grunebaum); Syed Rafiq Husain’s The Mirror of Wonders ( translated from Urdu by Saleem Kidwai); Malarvan’s War Journey: Diary of a Tamil Tiger ( translated by M Malathy); Mohinder Singh Sarna’s Savage Harvest: Stories of Partition ( translated from Punjabi by Navtej Sarna); Prabha Khaitan A Life Apart ( translated from Hindi by Ira Pande) and an anthology of New Urdu Writings: From India & Pakistan ( edited by Rakhshanda Jalil). In fact Penguin India’s best fiction title for the year was The Mirror of Beauty, according to Managing Editor, Sivapriya. She adds, “At Penguin we are developing a focused translations list that spans contemporary texts and modern classics and older classics.”

HarperCollins has an imprint dedicated to translations from Indian literature—Harper Perennial. Minakshi Thakur, Sr. Commissioning Editor says that “The translation market grew marginally in terms of value in 2013, but in terms of numbers it grew considerably. Harper did 10 translations as opposed to the 5 or 6 we were doing every year until 2012, from 2014 we’ll do about 12 titles every year.” Kannan Sundaram, Publisher, Kalachuvadu “Translations from Indian languages to English, from one Indian language to others and from world languages to Indian languages is definitely on the rise. Personally I have sold more translation rights and published more translations this year than before. Good Indian language authors are in demand like never before.” This assessment is corroborated by Aditi Maheshwari, Publisher, Vani Prakashan who says that “When we decided to do translations some twenty years ago, it was a very new phenomenon. We did translations from English to Hindi, Indian languages to Hindi and international languages to Hindi (without English as a medium).”

Another interesting aspect of translations too has successful publishing collaborations like that of making short fiction by Ayfer Tunc, Turkish writer and editor of Orhan Pamuk, The Aziz Bey Incident and other stories. It has been translated into Tamil and Hindi, but the English edition of this book is not available in India, all though it was released at the London Book Fair 2013. According to Thomas Abraham, CEO, Hachette, “the books sell well enough without being blockbusters —they were conceived with mid- range sales of 3k-5k like all translations are, and most of the time they tend to deliver that.”

Interviewing authors

Interviewing authors

John Freeman, How to read a novelistRead. Read. Read. Read.

The mantra that most writers suggest is the best way to hone one’s craft. The same holds true for reviewers, publishing professionals and anyone else in this profession of letters. In order to improve the skill one seeks to excel at, it is best to read as much as possible. Yet there is always more to learn about an author. Usually a good interviewer creates a portrait of the author that is deftly written and sharp in its analysis of their writing. ( It is fascinating to observe the interviewer being influenced by the writer, evident in the style of writing, the form the interview takes shape and at times even in the vocabulary.) With the internet becoming a repository of information about authors, their lives and anything else of remote interest to them and being at times to connect with contemporary authors in real time via social media platforms, the need to publish a book of author interviews seems to be futile. Having said that I have thoroughly enjoyed reading How to Read a Novelist by John Freeman and British Muslim Fictions by Claire Chambers. Two exquisite collections of excellent interviewers engaging with authors. In a matter of few pages they are able to introduce the author, give a bit of personal history (if required and relevant to the interview), a perspective on their oeuvre and highlight at least one essential aspect of the author that makes their writing unique. When John Freeman interviews Sarajevo-born, now settled in Chicago, Aleksandar Hemon, Freeman observes: ‘Hemon has been widely praised for the unexpected images this style creates, but it was not, he says, the hallmark of a deliberate, honed, and in some cases mapped out. “I wanted to write with intense sensory detail, to bring a heightened state.” He is a sentence writer who counts beats as a poet does syllables.’ (p.134) Or what he has to say of Michael Ondaatje — “Genres bleed between books in Ondaatje’s work.” Or about E. L. Doctorow that “his novels don’t read like researched books but restored originals, recently rediscovered.” Similarly Claire Chambers too has wonderful insights about the authors she meets whether it is Nadeem Aslam, Kamila Shamsie, Aamer Hussein or Mohsin Hamid to name some of them. The hard work that both John Freeman and Claire Chambers put into familiarize themselves with the authors is masked so well that each interview seems to effortlessly done. Yet it is obvious that considerable thought has gone into the preparation for every interview. They seem to be acutely aware of not being “over-prepared”, instead focusing on having “an actual conversation with all the unpredictability and freshness of a good one”. British Muslim Fictions

The beauty of each interview is that there is something for every reader to glean—it could be a person discovering an author for the first time or of a reader familiar with the author being interviewed. There is a restraint and a respect that each interviewer has for their author that shines through every profile. It also helps achieve the fine balance of the professional and personal dimensions of an author being presented without it seeming to be voyeuristic. Just enough of the authors personal lives, descriptions of their homes or even of their peculiar habits, such as Kazuo Ishiguro never likes to discuss what he is writing till he is done with it. These are two books worth buying, treasuring, reading for pleasure, to ponder over and if a student of creative writing, essential reading.

Women writingWhile reading these books, there were two other books from India that I recalled — Just Between Us: Women speak about their writing and The Big Bookshelf . Books published a long time ago, but continue to be relevant since they too consist of author interviews. The Big Bookshelf is based upon the years of experience Sunil Sethi had as host of NDTV’s Just Books. (http://profit.ndtv.com/videos/watch-just-books)  It ran for many years to finally end in summer of 2013. All though in October 2013, the state television channel, Doordarshan, launched a books programme called Kitabnama:Books and More. ( Link to episode 2:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPCp8QyqAD4 ) It is a weekly programme, designed and curated by author Namita Gokhale. ( She is also one of the directors of the Jaipur Literature Festival.) Sunil Sethi

 

“Boys don’t knit” by Tom Easton

“Boys don’t knit” by Tom Easton

Boys Don't Knit

Ben Fletcher is in a bit of a soup. He was with a bunch of his friends when he was nabbed after an unfortunate incident at the supermarket. It involved a stolen bottle of Martini Rosso and a lollipop lady. Anyway the upshot of it is that Ben Fletcher has to do community service. According to Claudia Gunter of the West Meon Probation Service, Ben Fletcher has to maintain a personal journal, “giving as full an account as possible of the events of each day and recording, in detail, your thoughts, concerns and feelings.” He is also asked to take up a hobby to keep him on the straight and narrow. Of the few classes being offered at school, he wishes to join the one being offered by the  “hot teacher”, Jessica Swallow. Unfortunately it is knitting. So knitting class is what he signs up for.

Ben lives with his parents and six-year-old sister, Megan. His father claims to be dyslexic and is a car mechanic who thinks that Jeremy Clarkson is god. “I suppose he’s all right, my dad, except he just talks about nothing but football and Top Gear. On and the Second World War. ” Ben’s mother is a “state magician, which sounds quite cool but it’s not really, because it isn’t like David Copperfield with a huge stage and special effects. It’s just little clubs and pubs with dodgy PAs, unappreciative audiences and nowhere she can keep her white doves. She’s always off ‘on the circuit’. My relationship with  my mum is OK, when she’s around. On the one hand she never cooks or cleans or does any of the stuff mums are supposed to do, on the other hand she can make Pringles come out of my ear.”

He is a normal boy, Ben is. When he manages to find himself in this incredible situation of learning how to knit, tying himself up in knots wondering what people would think of him, especially the girls. Once in knitting class he discovers the joys of knitting patterns, being creative with colours and experimenting with designs. He slowly discovers he has a talent for it, likes it, begins to take orders and is competitive too. All the while he is trying to knit quietly and secretly in his room, hiding his knitting pattern sheets and balls of wool under the bed. Even Claudia Gunter is interested in his progress.

Boys Don’t Knit is a delightful, laugh-out-loud funny book by Tom Easton.  (In his “spare time” he is the Production Manager for Hachette UK.) It is devoid of vampires and ghouls–creatures about whom Tom Easton also loves to write–but it has all the ingredients of a crackling good read. It has the angst of a young boy, just stepping into his teens, who to his dismay has to take up knitting classes, thus upturning the preconceived notions of gendered roles in society.  At the same time he discovers how to handle competitiveness with grace and remain focused on the goal of winning the prestigious knitting competition. And more importantly, discovering that the girl of his dreams, Megan Hopper, may just have a thing for him. Life could not get any better.

hkblogoThe imprint, Hot Keys Books, will be releasing Boys Don’t Knit on 14 Jan 2014. It is an imprint worth watching out for. After a long time I am discovering the joys of being familiar with a list that is producing magnificent titles, with a range of issues and very well written. So far any book that I have picked out of their pile has been worth reading. Hot Keys Books was begun by Sarah Odedin who in her previous avatar was an editor at Bloomsbury. Hot Key Books, a brand new division of Bonnier Publishing, publishes books for 9 – 19 year olds and was established in 2011. They are focused on developing this as a brand and so far doing it well. In the couple of years of existence they have already got a winner with Sally Gardener’s Maggot Moon. It won the 2012 Children’s Costa Book Award and the 2013 Carnegie Medal. From 2014, it seems Hot Keys Books will increase their number of titles from 40 to 60 per year.

Tom Easton Boys Don’t Knit Hot Keys Books, London, 2014. Pb. pp. 278 £6.99 ( Age range: 12+)

Of city biographies

Of city biographies

Places appear on maps as flat spaces;they don’t appear as stories of neighbourhoods. 

( p.48  Amitava Kumar A Matter of Rats)

In 2013, Aleph Book company launched a new series, focused on cities. It was inaugurated with Amitava Kumar’s” A Matter of Rats, followed by Nirmala Lakshman’s Degree Coffee by the Yard and Naresh Fernandes’s City Adrift “on Patna, Madras ( Chennai) and Bombay (Mumbai) respectively. Slim, pocket-size, hardbound, beautifully produced volumes. Each one consists of chapters or long essays, with the authors commenting, reflecting and describing the city that they love dearly.

A Matter of RatsFor Amitava Kumar it is about the city where he grew up – Patna. He now lives in USA, but returns to Patna often. He writes about the city with fondness, all though acutely aware of the transformations it has been through, “but  a part of me has always believed that a trip to Patna offers a glimpse of the real India.” In his endorsement of the book, Teju Cole says that “A Matter of Rats is disconcerting, sophisticated, and recklessly courageous. The stories gathered here bring Patna to life, and accrete to an almost unbearable intensity.” Naresh Fernandes
Naresh Fernandes’s description of Bombay is fascinating. It is full of nuggets of information such as the trade between Bombay and China is forever remembered in the name given to the technique for weaving silk brocade – tanchoi. It is said to have been introduced to China by Jamsetjee Jejeebhoy. The name is thought to reflect the fact that the three ( or ‘tan’ in Gujarati) received instruction from a Chinese master weaver named Choi. ( p.47) City Adrift contains historical information — the evolution of Bombay over the ages, what it meant to the locals, traders, the British etc. His social commentary is sharp, as he delineates the melting pot the city is of various communities, the horrors of communal violence that continue to smoulder but there is no getting away from the fact that this is a city firmly associated with commerce, finance and world of business. It always has and always will be.

Degree coffee, Nirmala LakshmanNirmala Lakshman’s account of Madras (Chennai) is of a city she adores. A city that she is familiar with since her family has been settled in it for generations. She comes from the family that established the national newspaper, The Hindu and continues to publish even today. Degree Coffee by the Yard is a historical and a contemporary account of another port city (like Bombay), an industrial hub and a rich cultural tradition that has patronised the Arts for many decades. The pleasure in reading Nirmala Lakshman’s book stems from knowing and sharing the details that go into making the city what it is.

The three titles in this series published so far are very personal accounts of the cities the authors adore. The chapters could work easily as a longread or bookmarked for ready reference on a mobile platform. The book cover designs are scrumptious but the text inside has not a single illustration or photograph in it. The books rely considerably on the strong personal voice of the authors to carry the books and make them interesting to read. The size of the books are in a convenient format, easy to carry in a bag while familiarising oneself with a city. The reasonable price too makes these as ideal gifts, and once the series take off, they would probably make a good box set. Now only if these books had an exclusive website (maybe on Tumblr or WordPress) dedicated to the series, with links and comments on resources. Much like what Mayank Austen Soofi has done for Delhi with his Delhiwalla.com website ( http://www.thedelhiwalla.com/ ). Maybe Naresh Fernandes’s lovely website on jazz musicians in Bombay, Taj Mahal Foxtrot ( http://www.tajmahalfoxtrot.com/ ), can be linked to such a website. Forthcoming is Indrajit Hazra on Kolkata called Grand Delusions.

 

Kolkata, Indrajit Hazra

 

 

“Keeping The Word”, PubSpeak, Dec 2013

“Keeping The Word”, PubSpeak, Dec 2013

( PubSpeak in December 2013 is about trust deficit. It has been published originally in BusinessWorld online. Here is the url: http://www.businessworld.in/news/books/columns/keeping-the-word/1175440/page-1.html I am also c&p the text below. 4 Dec 2013
PubSpeak, Jaya

Publishing industry too has its share of tales where people have not honoured their word or fulfilled contracts. Jaya Bhattacharji Rose writes of ways to prevent these

Some time ago, I received a message on Facebook from a distraught illustrator. The illustrator had been commissioned by a prominent publishing house to create paintings for a book cover design of a forthcoming young adult novel. The cover had been through three draft designs and had been approved by everyone including the author. At the final stage, some design changes were asked for. The illustrator was not happy. Nevertheless, in complete faith, the illustrator decided to submit high resolution files of the altered paintings since the project was nearing completion. But the relationship came apart (and legal recourse had to be taken to) because the art director of the publishing house refused to honour the contract, withholding part of the payment due on the grounds that the design had been created inhouse. But there is barely any difference other than the shade of colour and the size of the images if you compare the designs submitted by the illustrator with those that were done inhouse. Since then, the first illustrator has refused to work with the publisher.

Twenty years after the publication of ‘A Suitable Boy’, fans of Vikram Seth were waiting in anticipation for the sequel – A Suitable Girl. Unfortunately Seth did not deliver the manuscript in time to Hamish Hamilton. Soon after the merger of Penguin Books and Random House was official in July 2013, this book was one of the earliest casualties. The author was asked by the publishers to return the $1.7 million advance for a two-book deal, including the paperback rights of ‘A Suitable Boy’, bought off Orion publishing. According to media reports the new group — Penguin Random House — is expected to cut costs as it tries to compete better with new forms of publishing and competition from online rivals such as Amazon. Fortunately for the author, his original publisher Orion, stepped in and is committed to publishing A Suitable Girl in Autumn 2016.

Disturbing Trend
The world of publishing is full of such stories — some tamer than others. People yearning to be published, some having been published, some selling better than others, some getting noticed critically more than the others, many satisfied with what they have achieved, yet there is a constant subterranean rumble of unpleasant anecdotes. Many of the stories, often open knowledge to ‘those in the know’, deal with plagiarism, contracts not being honoured, copyright violations, disappointment about advances, dissatisfaction about contracts drawn or negotiations about rights hitting nasty patches, sales and marketing executives not fulfilling orders, bookstores not adequately stocked, at times even missing titles that have been shortlisted for literary prizes.A popular topic of conversation is the efficiency of vendor management systems and authors stealing ideas from each other. The stories are about professional relationships being affected, relationships that are forged, nurtured and sustained by humans. These, in turn, affect the commissioning potential of editors and the formation and evolution of lists and imprints, the emergence of new ideas and creative collaborations and more importantly the growth of the business of publishing.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, to “publish” is defined as “prepare and issue (a book, journal or piece of music) for public sale. Print in a book or journal so as to make generally known.” A “publisher” is a company or person that prepares and issues books, journals, or music for sale. In traditional forms of publishing, that is, the printed form, specialist knowledge of the processes involved including sales, marketing and distribution was essential. Many of the books published were and are inevitably born out of a conversation (or a “gentleman’s agreement”) that a commissioning editor has with the author (or the content creator, as the ‘author’ could even be another publisher or an organisation, and not necessarily an individual). It is after a series of negotiations based on trust that the business details of the arrangement are thrashed out and subsequently enshrined in a written and signed contract. These are then preserved and referred to for the time that the firm has the license to publish the book(s).

For many authors/illustrators this is a smooth process and continues to be so. From the moment authors are signed on, they begin to be a little more aware of their rights, wanting clarity on the royalty statements, visibility and easy availability of the book in all formats and kinds of stores. Publishers too want professionalism from the content creator and other collaborators on the project. Similarly bookstore owners/online retailers/customers want quick fulfillment of their orders. Readers want satisfaction from the books that they read.

So, What Next?
Every October, publishers from around the world flock to the publishers’ mecca, the Frankfurt Book Fair, for a week of intense conversations and meetings. This time the news emerging from the Frankfurt was about the most innovative and viable method of connecting books with readers, these were mostly reserved for the digital domain. Some examples of digital-only imprints are HarperCollins India’sHarper21; Italy’s RCS Libri’s Rizzoli Lab, dedicated to experiments in digital; Indireads presenting modern South Asian literature in digital friendly formats.; HarperCollins established HarperTeen Impulse; Random House launched Loveswept, Hydra, Alibi, and Flirt; Harlequin has Carina Press and Bloomsbury has Bloomsbury Spark.

Another tactic is to create blogs on publishers’ websites where most host curators prefer to focus only on their books and authors. The Melville House publishing house’s blog has to be one of the richest in its generosity of sharing accounts, stories and opinions related to books and not necessarily confined to its own lists.

Today, with social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, content creators (authors, illustrators) can have conversations directly with other publishing professionals. A democratisation of the system that is challenging established business models of publishing. A notable result has been the rapidity with which self-publishing has become an attractive proposition — primarily because the author is in control of producing his book in all formats, can track the distribution and sales and is responsible for the promotion of the book. With the number of authors opting for this form of publishing it is no surprise that even traditional publishers are offering self-publishing services as an option.

Through this wonderful burst of creative energy and proliferation of platforms for publishing, two facts stand out. First, these innovations are obvious responses to the changing environment of publishing. Second, given how complex the book market is becoming, with new channels of news dissemination and distribution, publishers are being innovative in accessing readers and customers. But these new business models of outreach will only be successful if publishing professionals do not keep their word and the growing “trust deficit” in the publishing eco-system is not addressed immediately.

Stuart Diamond writing in his bestseller ‘Getting More’ says “Trust is a feeling of security that the other person will protect you. …The major component of trust is honesty—being straight with people. Trust does not mean that both sides agree with each other, or are always pleasant to each other. …Trust is something that develops slowly, over time. It is an emotional commitment to one another based on mutual respect, ethics, and good feeling. …lack of trust has a cost.”

These challenges exist in all industries but it is slightly different for publishing which relies upon human relationships and creativity for growing the business organically. For it to be a sustainable business model, there has to be bedrock of trust among all stakeholders, irrespective of the format they choose to publish in.

The writer is an international publishing consultant and columnist

@JBhattacharji

Andre Schiffrin, “Publishing is transforming”

Andre Schiffrin, “Publishing is transforming”

( It is a sad day indeed. Andre Schriffin, a publishing legend has passed away. I interviewed Andre Schriffin in 2011 when he came to India. At the time I interviewed him for BusinessWorld online. Here is the link: http://www.businessworld.in/news/economy/%18publishing-is-transforming%19/359818/page-1.html, published 11 Nov 2011. I am c&p the interview below as well. ) 

Andre SchriffinParis-based publishing luminary Andre Schiffrin is renowned not necessarily for the writers he has published (Chomsky, Foucault, Hobsbawm, etc.), but also for his successful business models in publishing. Jaya Bhattacharji Rose caught up with him to discuss the present, past and future of books. Excerpts:

You have been in publishing for over 60 years now. How have things changed?
The role of the reader has always been important, but never as much as now, with the arrival of digital publishing and big chains. The challenges are mostly negative, especially for independent publishers. Google and Amazon are creating a monopoly, destroying the bookstore and the paperback. (E-books are as cheap as paperbacks.) With Amazon venturing into direct publishing, the future looks bleak for maintaining the publi-shing models of the past, where there was a stress on quality, and on nurturing new writers and thinkers. A good modern-day example worth emulating is what MIT is doing with its curriculum. It is an important model where the output is available for free.

Can you elaborate on the challenges, especially for independent publishing? 
Publishing is a macrocosm of society. Publishers need to take a risk and experi-ment with ideas and authors. Unfortunately, more than ever before, there exists a market censorship. Big publishers are being selective and, at times, conservative about what they publish. Secondly, the political decision is paramount in helping independent publishers. For instance, in Germany fixed pricing of books or resale price maintenance is important as it keeps independent bookstores alive. Publi-shers and importers of books in German have to fix a price for each book published or imported. Fixed price means all retailers will initially offer a book for sale at the same price, in whatever period of the year.

A third challenge is distribution networks. A good distribution network is the key for their survival. For example, in France, over a thou-sand independent stores have come together to share information and help each other. This network works well. So, you can order a title at any bookshop and within 24 hours it is delive-red. Finally, the role of the author in suppor-ting the independent publisher is significant.

How do you look at social media and the spaces it allows?
I am not against technology, but social media spaces are limited. It is not always easy to locate and discover, and engage with opinion makers there. It is important to be printed, published and disseminated in the traditional manner. A recent example is Time For Outrage, written by 93-year-old Stephane Hessel. Published by a small French publisher in Montpellier, and priced at a mere e3 — it has sold over 3.5 million copies so far.

How have troubles in the US and the Eurozone impacted publishing? 
Publishing in these territories is under-going a transformation. The growth of publishing firms is mainly due to M&As. But the most significant impact for Indian publi-shing is in the growth of printing. Publishers from these territories seek ways of being cost-effective, by outsourcing printing to India— and they have been doing so for a while now.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 21-11-2011)

“Jeeves and the Wedding Bells” Sebastian Faulks

“Jeeves and the Wedding Bells” Sebastian Faulks

Sebastian Faulks, Jeeves and the Wedding BellsSebastian Faulks has written a homage to P. G. Wodehouse, a novel, Jeeves and the Wedding Bells. It is meant to be a new addition to the Wodehouse collection of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves novels. It was announced with a great deal of fanfare earlier in the year and released in November 2013. Unfortunately it does not meet one’s expectations at all. It is stiff and difficult to read. It misses the humour of Wodehouse.

Resurrecting beloved characters that have endured and continued to charm generations of readers is a trend that is going viral among publishers. In the hope of keeping markets alive, publishers are introducing new and young readers to characters that they may not be familiar with. Popular contemporary novelists are entrusted with the task of scripting new stories. For instance, Anthony Horowitz wrote a new Sherlock Holmes mystery, The House of Silk ( 2012); William Boyd wrote a new James Bond novel, Solo (2013); and next year Sophie Hannah will be writing a new Hercule Poirot mystery. ( If the buzz at Frankfurt Book Fair 2013 is to be believed this is a novel to watch out for.) Keeping with this trend, Sebastian Faulks was asked by Random House to create a new novel with Bertie Wooster and Jeeves. These editorial decisions of matchmaking between popular contemporary novelists with old favourites are actually very sharp. If these new novels are written well ( as House of Silk is) everyone stands to gain—the readers have a new novel, the author and the publishers have a new market to tap. More importantly, most of these characters are either out of the copyright domain or are about to become available. By introducing new versions of the characters, estates of the authors can consider arguing legally “having that single book under copyright means that the entire character is covered by copyright”. ( Read. Conan Doyle Estate Is Horrified That The Public Domain Might Create ‘Multiple Personalities’ Of Sherlock Holmes http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20130915/00291924523/conan-doyle-estate-doesnt-understand-public-domain-freaks-out-harms-it-might-cause-to-sherlock-holmes.shtml ) Thus keeping a tight control on the royalties earned by the new lease of life these characters are given. Significantly at a time when multiple formats are splintering and expanding the market, creating alternative revenue streams, it is important for publishers to explore ways of making inroads, testing markets and this can be done at least cost with old characters that are favourites, out-of-copyright or require minimal license fees to be paid, and new business models are explored. House of Silk, Anthony Horowitz

In Faulks on Fiction, Sebastian Faulks has an essay on Jeeves, ‘The Mood will Pass, Sir”. His opening line is “one of the odd things about Jeeves is how seldom he appears in the stories that immortalised him. While P. G. Wodehouse never used anything as vulgar as formula, there is an elegant pattern to Jeeves exits and his entrances.” ( p.239) Well if Faulks was interested in exploring the Jeeves angle in The Wedding Bells, he failed. He misses the point of Wodehouse’s fiction. Probably because Faulks is unable to get rid of his awe for Wodehouse. He remains nervous, hesitant following ( writing?) in the footsteps of Wodehouse and seems to be only keen to explore a perspective he feels is missing from the established Wodehouse canon.

Sebastian Faulks Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, Hutchinson, London, 2013. Pb. pp. 258 Price not mentioned.